Letting Big Ben speak for himself

DarwinFishDuring all of my West Coast travels last week there was one URL that I kept watching for, a link that would let us read what Pope Benedict XVI had actually said in his latest remarks on creation and a Creator. I didn't want to comment on this issue until there was some kind of official translation available. Now we have it (hat tip, of course, to the omnipresent Amy Welborn). Rare is the pope who speaks in sound bites, and reporters often, frankly, get the quotes wrong or out of context. When in doubt, it's best to let the pope speak for himself.

Frankly, I was surprised at how little MSM coverage this story received. The story is old, now, but here is the start of the basic Associated Press report to remind you:

Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order. ...

He quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth century saint, as saying some people, "fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance."

"How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order," he said. "With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word -- this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos -- is also love."

For another take on this story, click here for the Religion News Service report that appeared at Beliefnet.

In terms of what the pope said, two points must be made.

First of all, he places a heavy emphasis on the awesome words at the start of the Gospel of John, a major source of unity for Christians, rather than the creation accounts in Genesis, which often cause division. In doing so, he is following the strategy of the Intelligent Design camp, not the traditional creationist argument. In the beginning was the Word. Words are intelligent and contain information.

Second, if must be noted that -- more than any other point -- Benedict XVI is arguing against the philosophy of Darwinism, with its emphasis on a random, unguided and impersonal process of creation, rather than against the idea of common descent and slow change over time. In doing so, he is being consistent with the often quoted and misquoted remarks of the late Pope John Paul II. For more information on that, click here and then here.

It is also clear that -- in Catholic higher education and, yes, even inside the Vatican -- the pope's remarks are setting teeth on edge. Just about the only thing Big Ben hasn't done is openly do what John Paul II did when he talked about plural "theories of evolution" and then started describing which parts of the Darwinian canon fit with traditional Christian faith and which parts do not. It would really help if journalists had to cover a detailed discussion of the merits of microevolution (accepted by virtually everyone involved in this story) and the fierce debates about the evidence for macroevolution (ah, there's the rub).

truth eats darwinMeanwhile, Catholics will argue about this from now until doomsday.

Check out this latest blast against the Intelligent Design camp -- against the pope, as well? -- from the "chief astronomer" of the Vatican.

You can also follow this link to a long thread at Welborn's open book blog, with Catholics on all sides jumping into the debate. Welborn herself opens things up with a calm post that begins with this interesting thought:

I am far less interested in Intelligent Design than I am in simply asking questions about evolutionary theory. It seems to me one could be done with out the other, and, in fact, need to be. There is not one aspect of science which should go unquestioned, even by members of the unwashed such as me, and I am a little weary of questions about evolution -- about evidence, in particular -- being brushed off as the wishful thinking of creationists. They're not.

It would be quite interesting for cultural permission to be given, as it were, for this particular dogma to be held up to scrutiny and for an honest discussion to be had about the explanatory power of evolutionary theory as well as its weaknesses, flaws and gaps -- without anyone getting defensive. Impossible, but it's sort of what I'm looking for.

Amen. What she said.

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